2020 - Some personal end of year reflections

I am thrilled to report that 2020 has been an excellent year for Power2Inspire!  Despite everything that Covid-19 threw at us, we delivered 11 PowerHouseGames days, held a fabulous Festival of Inclusive Golf, pioneered both online seat-based exercise classes as well as a virtual PowerHouseGames with the Perse, and inaugurated the Virtual Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge.

  • 1,221 attendees at our PowerHouseGames
  • A potential audience of 700 million for the Virtual Boat Race
  • 300,000 views for the online classes
  • Over £25,000 raised by our fabulous supporters

But I don’t want to get carried away. 2020 was the year that most of us will be happy to consign to history, the year that no one saw coming, the year that changed almost everything.

PowerHouseGames in Jan ’20 featuring:
Cambridge University Netball and Rugby League clubs, Impington College, Heritage School & Castle Special School

We were so optimistic back in January. We were planning our greatest number of PowerHouseGames, bigger festivals, and an expanded SuperSensory1K, all with a revitalised and dynamic board of trustees.

We were right to be excited. The Cambridge University Rugby League and Netball clubs came together for their first PowerHouseGames with Impington Village College, Heritage School and Castle Special School. It proved so much fun the Rugby League boys signed up early for a repeat: we were all so innocent!

This was followed by games at Linton Heights Juniors, Alexandra Infants School, and St Peter’s, Billericay.  I shall never forget a young boy at Alexandra Infants showing off his out-of-the-ordinary hand (virtually no fingers) to be like me!

Luke Cavanaugh and Alex Parton of Caius College led our first College PowerHouseGames.  I was thrilled to have Quilters Year 5s attend as the first junior school to attend a university games – they represented their school brilliantly.  Our last PowerHouseGames was on 6th March, the second with the university cricket club, hosting The Perse, Netherhall and Castle Special Schools.

But then it all changed.  We were due to hold a football PHG a week later, but Highfields School had a Covid case, and lockdown followed shortly afterwards. Further PHGs were cancelled or postponed.

So how did I, and Power2Inspire, get through this?

I think I experienced the five stages of Covid grief in just five days. I don’t in any way wish to belittle anyone’s real grief by making this comparison: my heart goes out to everyone affected by this dreadful illness. But it has been noted that our feelings, the sense of loss for a life that has gone, are similar to those when grieving [1]

Those five stages are: denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance.

In the week before the cancelled games on the Friday, I ignored all the signs and remained unduly optimistic: I was in denial.  On the Thursday, I received the call from Highfields about the Covid case and that they were stopping outside activities.  The games were off.  I moved straight into bargaining: could the other pupils still come?  Anger followed swiftly: all we needed was one more day! This was so unfair.

I was morose over the weekend; depressed, with sprinklings of anger, bargaining and denial.

But then my experiences as a disabled person started helping me.  After years of facing shut doors (literal and metaphorical), of buttons refusing to undo or do up, of not being allowed or able to join in, I’ve learned that it is pointless, indeed damaging, to rail against the shut door.  You can choose to sit down in front of it and wait, or you can accept the situation and find another way.

I love the Chinese proverb –  “There is no wall too long to walk around.”  The Chinese should know – the Great Wall is very long, but it still has two ends. And there is always another way round, over, under, through….!

What then could we do?

Our mission isn’t to deliver PowerHouseGames, but to “embed sport in the sporting, education and community landscapes.”  PowerHouseGames are just one way of doing this.  What could we do instead?

I had started dreaming of an Inclusive Boat Race in 2016. Having been a cox at Cambridge University, I was keen to add rowing to our stable of Festivals of Inclusive Sports.  Using ergometers (rowing machines) makes it accessible for more people.  However, it had not yet proved possible to make an Oxford v Cambridge race between mixed ability crews on ergs a reality.

Lockdown suddenly offered an opportunity.  The elite rowers were unable to row for their universities but wanted to stay fit, and many of them had ergs at home.  We made it virtual, with the rowers filming themselves and the marvellous Small Films editing the footage into an exhilarating race.  Huge thanks to Garry Herbert and Martin Cross for adding the all-important commentary; to GingerMay who helped us reach around the globe; and to Mark Howarth and his team at mch.london, who sponsored and project managed the event.

Click below to check out more about the first ever Virtual Boat Race!

Another real highlight was recruiting Alex Laybourne as Deputy CEO, made possible by funds raised through the Virtual Boat Race.  Welcome Alex – I now want more funds so we can increase your hours!  Anyone out there who wants to sponsor the 2021 Inclusive Boat Race (with, potentially, a global audience) please get in touch.

We turned another challenge into an opportunity with our seat-based exercise classes.  Oak Activities have been delivering seat-based exercise classes in libraries in Cambridgeshire for us for a couple of years. They’d grown from very small numbers to a dedicated weekly attendance of 50-60 across March, Ramsey and St Ives.

Tom Milner of Oak and I responded quickly to the libraries closing – the joys of being a small, agile charity – and thanks to Cambridgeshire Community Foundation (and later from Living Sport and Sport England) funding was secured to pilot an online version.  Tom recruited Lou, who ran three online classes daily, designed especially for those with less mobility.  The response has been phenomenal – over 300,000 views and with a regular following over 1,500.  Sadly, Lou had a mini stroke and had to take a recuperative rest, but still showed her spirit by demonstrating her rehabilitation exercises to explain why she wasn’t on screen.  We all wish her a continued recovery and look forward to having her back.  Aimee has taken over and we’re still delivering one class a day.

If you are interested in helping to fund the continuation of these online classes, please do contact us.  They provide a vital lifeline to those who are isolated and in need of activity.

Oxford and Cambridge rugby clubs came together with Leonard Cheshire care homes in Banbury and Brampton for an online seat-based exercise session led by the excellent Aimee.  It kept their links going, fostered our relationship with the clubs and hopefully encouraged Oxford to consider a PowerHouseGames in the future.

We have created other virtual versions of our activities: school assemblies via zoom for Kings Ely Juniors, The Perse and Kent College; and training videos for the Perse to take part in a mini self-run PowerHouseGames.  If you know a school who would like a zoom assembly or a self-run PowerHouseGames with support, please put them in touch with us.

Our activities finished the year with a return to some annual favourites!

Quilters’ headteacher, Mike Wade, was so keen to host their third annual Paralympic Week, he restructured the school week to keep everyone safe. The children were so enthusiastic, so pleased to be able to play and have fun, that the week was our best yet as Zach showed and the teachers explain in the short video below.  It demonstrated why Mike is such a good head teacher: he cares deeply about the children and is worried about the effects of the pandemic on their mental health and resilience, and is supporting them through it.  No wonder he’s been shortlisted for the national Primary School Head Teacher of the Year award.

It was fitting and optimistic that we should finish the year with the Festival of Inclusive Golf.  Read too Daniel’s story below. The FIG showed we can still deliver during a pandemic – especially outdoors and with some imagination.

The last event of the year was the Living Sports virtual awards.  I am delighted to say we were runners-up in two categories: with Oak Activities in the Matthew Warn Power of Sport award for the online exercise classes; and I was runner-up in the Services to Sport award.  Thank you, Living Sport for all your support this year.

Despite Covid-19, the lockdowns, the closed schools, and the reduced opportunities, we have had a year to be proud of.  We’re also excited for the restart of ‘normal’ life next year.  With a fresh, reinvigorated board (thank you for all the hours you put in for free) and an enthusiastic Deputy CEO, Power2Inspire is ready to step up to the next level.

We want to expand our University PowerHouseGames programme, develop our Festivals of Inclusive Sport into an exciting series, secure the future of the online classes, build a partnership with the Boat Race Company, and above all, return to schools to show that inclusive sport is fun and ensure that “No one is left on the Bench!”

Inspired? Then Get Involved!

If you would like to help us continue inspiring thousands of people with inclusive sport then we would love to hear from you. We are always looking out for people willing to fundraise for Power2Inspire – we have loads of spaces at events you can run in to raise funds for us, or through your own inspiring means. You could volunteer at one of our events, or you could give to the ongoing work of Power2Inspire. Just £5 a month will pay for a school class to have a fun-filled morning of inclusive sport!

Click the button here to find out more.

John Willis

CEO & Founder, Power2Inspire